Program begun by OT grad students provides comprehensive care for underserved trucker population
In a country where the average lifespan is 78.8 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control, one group of people is unlikely to even see 65. They suffer from untreated illnesses and stressful working conditions. As well, they run the risk of losing their job for illnesses or diseases they contract from their working environment.
Truck drivers are at an increased risk for many chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart failure. The drivers with the highest risks – those age 45 to 65 – are the most sought after group. Mental illnesses and emotional concerns are also rarely addressed and the lack of access to immediate care limits their options for treatment.
“Nothing in our economy moves without the trucking industry,” Jim Frederick, CEO of Professional Drivers Health Net (PDHN), said.
For the past 50 years, Transport for Christ has taken on one facet of these concerns. The organization built 40 mobile chapels, the goal of which was to better the spiritual lives of the drivers. The facilities were considered a success, with approximately 80 to 100 thousand encounters each year. However, in interviews truckers expressed to medical professionals that their physical and mental health concerns remained unaddressed.
In response to this feedback, Elizabethtown College developed a solution with the support of the Social Enterprise Institute (SEI). Jim Reeb, director of SEI, explained that each mobile chapel will be transformed into a care center with a mini clinic, relaxation spaces and a smaller version of the original sanctuary. Centers will be equipped with televisions, couches and telemedicine kiosks.
“Their hours are regulated by federal law, but their duration as a truck driver can be extended by proper care,” Reeb said.
Reeb explained that the goal of the centers is to create a space that is functional and welcoming to drivers, while enhancing the dignity of the population.
At the telemedicine kiosks, drivers will be able to use video and audio connections and diagnostic machines to attend virtual doctor’s appointments at any time of day.
There also will be facilities for driving companions —from puppies to miniature ponies— because approximately 40 percent of drivers bring their pets on the road.
Membership in this organization will cost drivers $24.95 per month and allow them access to all services at the centers. This cost will cover medical co-pays, counseling, chaplaincy and on-site scheduled hours for appointments.
“The whole key of this is convenience for the driver and ease of accessibility…” Frederick said.
“We want to address the whole person, but we want to ultimately help drivers keep their driver’s license (CDL) and have a healthy life to the extent we can help that.”
Frederick worked with Reeb to design the program and help put it into action. For the past 38 years, Frederick has worked in the employee marketplace, with health systems, providers and benefits. His goal is to build on the knowledge he gained in his previous job to offer the most help to drivers through connections and partner organizations.
Frederick called the PDHN “the first integrated solution to the concerns of this population.” In combining the PDHN with the occupational therapy department at Elizabethtown College, the group hopes to manage the previously ignored challenges facing this population.
“The real delivery of the services by the PDHN is focused on the occupational wellness of these drivers, as drivers, as an employee and as a family member or a citizen in the society,” Reeb said.
In August of 2015, two groups of graduate students at the College took on the program as their graduate research project. Through research and interviews, the teams have begun to understand the lifestyles of the population that they are serving.
“Occupational therapy is a very holistic profession, and I think that is exactly what this population needs, because they have such diverse needs,” fifth-year occupational therapy student Allison Kelly said.
“It is really multi-disciplined,” Reeb said. “It includes occupational therapy people, social worker, engineers…”
The organization’s mission is “to empower the delivery of integrated occupationally focused care to truck drivers by providing the best environment where lives can be changed.” In order to combat the wellness desert that drivers face students, stakeholders and a team of experts assembled by SEI are working together to address the drivers’ needs from many angles.
“We are aiming to adapt their rituals and routines to see how it can best support them in their futures,” fifth-year occupational therapy student Payton Marunich said.
The SEI took on the project at the request of the Trucker Wellness Foundation. The foundation asked that Reeb and his organization find the best ways to promote wellness in the trucker population. The initial plan was to design a facility with the help of the engineering department, but the organization quickly agreed that the facility was less important than the care model that would be implemented.
“We started with the notion of delivering an entire wellness program: body, soul and spirit,” Reeb said. “We realized that we really needed to create a new program that the country doesn’t have.”
The roll out will begin in 2016, when nine of the facilities will be completed. In 2017, the organization plans to complete the next seven and by 2018, estimates it will have 40 facilities.
The organization hopes to open 100 care centers in the United States at busy rest stops. Another goal is to take the organization international. Reeb plans to open 10 additional centers in Canada and approximately 60 throughout Africa in the coming years. Though no formal plans have been made to accomplish these goals, the Truckers’ Wellness Center Inc. is looking to the future for new and innovative ways to improve the health of the world’s drivers.
“The long-term vision is that we will see, through initiatives we put in place, an actual change,” Frederick said.